Mother Vincent Whitty

Mother Vincent WhittyMother Vincent Whitty (1819 – 1892)

Born in Olygate County Wexford on 1 March 1819, Ellen Whitty was the third youngest of the six children of William and Johanna Whitty.

Ellen entered the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1839, taking the name Sister Mary Vincent. Catherine McAuley prepared Ellen and her novitiate companions for their Profession in August 1841, and Ellen nursed Catherine in the weeks before her death in November of that year. Ellen’s leadership and personal qualities were quickly recognised – she was appointed Bursar of the Baggot Street Motherhouse in 1843 and Mistress of Novices in 1844.

In 1849, she was elected the fourth Reverend Mother of Baggot Street. During her six years in that office, she founded five new houses, established three institutions in Dublin for the care of underprivileged women and children, began planning and fund-raising for the Dublin Mater Hospital, and organised for a group of Sisters to go as nurses to Crimea.

In 1860, she volunteered to be part of a group of Sisters to accompany Bishop James Quinn to his newly created Diocese of Brisbane which, at that time, covered the whole of Queensland. Appointed leader of the group, Mother Vincent was quick to respond to the needs of the fledgling colony. Although deposed as Reverend Mother by Quinn in 1863, she was instrumental, over the thirty years of her life in Queensland, in establishing a network of Mercy schools and social institutions from Townsville in the north to Stanthorpe in the south and westward to Roma.

In a decidedly sectarian era, she welcomed Catholics and Protestants alike into these facilities and people from a wide cross-section of the Queensland community knew her concern for their welfare. Her educational curriculum extended beyond the three R’s to include music, needlework, painting and drawing – accomplishments highly valued by young women of the time.

Mother Vincent died on 9th March 1892. She had been a capable administrator, and displayed great faith and courage in the face of difficulty. Her obituary records gentleness and perseverance as her two strong characteristics. She also had a great capacity for friendship and was loved and revered not only by Sisters of Mercy throughout the English-speaking world, but also by a host of friends who mourned her passing deeply.